quinta-feira, 30 de julho de 2009

Greek Saga

Last year, around this time of the year, my husband and me were starting to plan our more or less annual holidays. We talked about some places, read about others. We ended up deciding for Greece and Istanbul.
Matilde, learning about our plans, said that this is a trip she always wanted to make, but thought it would never happen. Her husband doesn’t like to travel and she would never go alone.
- So come with us, woman!
- Won’t I disturb you? Jus the couple in honey moon and me…
- Matilde, stop being silly. We promise to be discreet… hahaha
- OK, I will go too!
All decided, plane tickets bought, hotel booked. On our last weekly coffee, before the trip, we were saying goodbye to Mário and he reminded us to taste the Retsina, a kind of typical Greek wine, flavored with pine oil. We hear about it on our enology classes, during our Gastronomy course, but never had faith on it, but once we were going to be there… In Greece, like the Greeks, right?
So, I promised I would bring a bottle of Retsina so he could share with us the pleasure or the suffering, who knows?
He wished a good trip and that we enjoyed a lot, and everything else a friend wishes when the other is going to travel. But, when is gastronomic friends, besides the usual, we also talk about tasting new foods, new spices and this kind of thing. And then I said that when we come back, we would make a Greek dinner with everything we had tasted and liked. So the dinner was more or less settled.

September arrived. We travelled we tasted everything we saw, in Greece and in Turkey. We really liked everything we saw, heard and ate. I fell in love with the Greek yogurt. It is really good! But I think that the thing we most ate was the Souvlaki, which in Turkey it’s called Donner Kebab.
Of course I didn’t forget to buy Mário’s Retsina. The interesting thing is that we didn’t get to taste the wine there. We can’t say that we didn’t have the opportunity. I don’t know. We tasted so many other things…
When Mário received the bottle, the first thing he said was that he would open it in the Greek dinner and we would all drink it together. Needless to say that it only gave strength to our idea.
Since that day we’ve been studying the menu. Our biggest difficulty is to solve how we’re going to make the Greek barbecue, that have a lot of peculiarities.

After the trip we had lots of photos to show, lots of thing to tell. But we needed to decide the menu of the dinner.
We tasted a lot of things and some things called our attention:
- The many ice cream shops, with their delicious homemade ice cream, of many flavors, found in every corner.
- The cookie houses. Yes, cookie houses. Sweet, salty, big, small, soft, crunchy, floury, brittle, dry, wet, etc. You go into one of these houses and the seller put in a paper box the cookies you choose. The Kourabies, for being too fragile, are put in a little silk bag. Because we travelled a lot by car, I used to go to a cookie house in the morning and buy many different kinds of cookies and we ate it in the road. Unfortunately we don’t have it here. I mean, fortunately we don’t have it here or else I would be really fat.
- The candy shops. My God, the candy shops! We travelled in the countryside. We went to little cities with practically one street. But you can be sure that in this only street you’ll find a varied, luxury, beautiful candy shop. Candies from French patisserie? Modern chocolate sculptures? No. Typical candies. Delicious. Delicate. Another big temptation. If, in the mornings I bought cookies, at nights I bought candies for dinner dessert. I miss it.
- Greek pistachio. I had never imagined that I would find so many different kinds of pistachio. Really green, with a shocking pink shell. Crunchy. Fresh. Big or small. Come from the islands. Ate it a lot
- Cheeses. I tasted many kinds, but the Feta, for me, was the best. Alone, in the bread, in salads, grilled, anyway.
- We spent a lot of time in the car, travelling around. Historical sites, old classic ruins, museums, monasteries, beaches, mountains, olive plantations, cities. No one wanted to stop for lunch. There we so many things to see. If we had lunch we would get lazy. The main meal was the dinner. Lunch=Fast food. Greek fast food=Souvlaki. We ate a lot of Souvlaki, some good, others not that good. I think, in the end, it was what we ate most. My husband became a real fan of it.
- The yogurt. What a wonderful thing. Actually, it is a dry curd, but the consistency is amazing. In my first breakfast in Greece, in Athens, there was a big bowl with a white cream. I looked at it and I thought it was Chantilly. It was yogurt. Light, aerated. After I got home I tried to do it sometimes. I got really close to the flavor, little acidity, but the aspect, the texture… I don’t know the secret yet.

Let's go to the menu.
Like any other country’s culinary, the Greek is rich, with many options. We decided we would only do what we had tasted. But it was almost 15 days having lunch and dinner trough Greece. We tasted lots of things.
Every meal starts with the Mezédes, or appetizers. There is a similarity with the Spanish tapas. They are made of many delicacies, that come in small portions. Usually is olives, stuffed grape leaves, aubergine paté, and many other things.
In this item, we decided for:
- Khoriátiki saláta, the Greek salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, feta cheese, capers and herbs. This salad we ate everywhere. Even in breakfast buffets in the hotels.
- Besides this, I’m thinking about doing a grilled octopus – Khtapodaki psitó. I tasted this dish in a restaurant in the seaside, in the beautiful city Náfplio. To be honest, the restaurant was beautiful and charming, but the octopus wasn’t very good. It was dry. But I think that if it is well prepared it must be awesome. I saw a really good recipe in a specialized site, so I decided to try.
- I also think we should do a Melitzanosaláta, the aubergine paté, really common around there.

As a main dish, I thought about a lamb, but my husband would kill me if I don’t make a Souvlaki. We all liked it, but he became a fan. He ate it almost every day. But the thing is really good. In a cone of pita bread, you put the slices of meat, from the Greek barbecue, a portion of Greek salad, Tzatziki, a sauce made of yogurt, cucumber and garlic, and even fries. It is like a meal and it is really tasty. So…

Dessert: Yogurt with honey, fruits and Baklavas, a candy of puff pastry stuffed with nuts. Delicious.

Why this lunch/dinner hasn’t come out yet, if we’ve been planning since the end of October of last year?
The answer is simple. We’ve been having some technical problems, difficult to be solved. They are (we accept suggestions and advices):
Bread – As incredible as it seems, our first difficulty was to find the right bread for the Souvlaki. It looks like Pitta bread, round and flat. But it’s different, it isn’t so thin and it’s not hollow, with the two pieces sticking off. It isn’t the bread from the wraps, also. On the contrary, it is made of a compact dough, really soft, that can be wrapped easily. The most alike that I found in the market here in Vitória was a bread for a kind ok sandwich called 'beirute', however, it has a much smaller diameter than the one needed for the Souvlaki. After some research, we found a bakery that accepted to make it the size we want. First problem solved!
Feta cheese – I can’t find it here, nowhere. Looking in the internet for someone that sells it online and delivers it here I discovered the site Casa da Ovelha (www.casadaovelha.com.br), that works with sheep and goat’s milk. I contacted them and ordered what I needed. But, even though their feta cheese is delicious, it’s not the same as the Greek feta cheese.
These days, Matilde heard about a delicatessen that perhaps could get a feta cheese in São Paulo. I also contacted the author of a blog about Greek culinary (Kalofagas - www.kalofagas.ca ) that sent me a good recipe. Let’s see.
Greek barbecue (gyros) – In the land of barbecue, seems like a joke that making a barbecue it’s a problem. But it is. And not only a problem, but our biggest one at the moment. First, we didn’t know how to build it. It was solved with the help of Lidia, author of the blog Cozinha Turca (www.cozinhaturca.blogspot.com). I sent her an e-mail and she answered me. Her tips were great and she was very nice. Thanks!
So what’s the problem? The Greek barbecue is grilled vertically and we don’t have a gill for that. There isn’t any for sell? Yes, but they are huge and really expensive.
Now we are looking for someone that could rent it for a weekend. We’ve been also studying a way of improvising a vertical grill. Mario has some ideas and he will see if there’s a way of really making it.
Greek yogurt – Nothing more than a dry curd. But, as I’ve mentioned before, it has an incredible consistency. I tried to do it at home with milk that came straight from farms, without patéurize, and I got close. I wanted to try with sheep’s milk. Where do I find it?
As you see, something that seemed simple, ended up in a big research. Not that it wasn’t worth it. In my way there I found a good provider of different products of sheep and goat’s milk (Casa da Ovelha), found a blog that I became a fan (Cozinha Turca), bought and won some excellent books about Greek culinary and culture and, more recently I contacted, by Twitter, the author of blogs that are worth to be followed (Kalofagas and Dragon’s Kitchen - www.dragonskitchen.blogspot.com).

But we’re going to make it! Sooner or later, we’ll have this dinner/lunch. After all, we all want to try Mário’s Retsina, isn’t that right?

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